Green-energy entrepreneur Michael Skelly (MBA 1991) founded Houston-based Clean Line Energy in 2009 to tackle a critical challenge. “If you look at the wind-power equation,” he says, “you quickly see that transmitting energy long distances from rural wind farms to large cities is the big obstacle. I figured the world didn’t need another wind developer as much as it needed someone who could figure out the transmission problem.”
The complexity of expanding the US electric grid becomes clear when Skelly describes Clean Line’s $2.5 billion Plains & Eastern Project, which will transmit 4,000 megawatts of wind energy—enough to power more than one million homes—from the wind-rich Oklahoma Panhandle region to customers in Arkansas, Tennessee, and other states in the Mid-South and Southeast. “Picture a new, 700-mile stretch of overhead, direct-current wire that requires easements from thousands of private landowners and the approvals of federal, state, and town officials,” says Skelly, who spends much of his time these days negotiating with investors, lawmakers, customers, landowners, and utility executives.
Never one to shy away from long-odds challenges, Skelly is a Peace Corps veteran who cofounded the first aerial tramway in Costa Rica’s rainforest and made a quixotic bid in 2008 for US Congress. He is committed to helping the country attain a 30 percent reliance on renewable energy, with Clean Line Energy playing a central role. “I’ve always wanted to make an idealistic contribution to the world,” Skelly shares. “I think our company will do that.”
(Published September 2016)
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